I encountered Meredith Drum's work via her website, http://meredithdrum.com/ and got a chance to interview her through phone. In 2011, she received her MFA from the Digital Arts and New Media program at UC Santa Cruz. She is an Assistant Professor of Inter-media at Arizona State University. Meredith Drum is a research-based artist who makes videos and animations, interactive cinematic installations, printed books and place-based works. Drum is also an activist who collaborates with dancers, architects, writers, urban planners, computer programmers and scientists.
Transcribe of Interview
Yan: What is your definition of feminist?
Meredith: well feminist is someone who thinks gender equality through activism through daily practices through their professional life and through their creative work. So I think for me it’s about gender equality, and you know that can include people that identify as women. ut you know people who are marginalized due to their gender association. Feminists as someone who is aware of the historical… the histories of gender and both the recent and far reaching history gender inequality.
Yan: Would you consider yourself a feminist filmmaker?
Yan: Can you tell me why?
Meredith: Yeah. I mean, I think I’m a feminist every day whether or not I’m making cinema or artwork. Or I’m just you know in the grocery store, in the way that I go about interacting with others. And so am I the film work I make or the artwork, since I have to make other forms other than cinema, is it part of my general ethics and so a number of the work that I’ve made are … have more of a focus on economic inequality or environmental deprecation. But the focus on gender is usually there as a way of working even if it’s not the specific focus.
Yan: I see that before you study about English Literature, but then you study Digital Arts and News Media in UCSC. So what lead you to become a filmmaker?
Meredith: Actually I think this has to do with gender in that I always wanted to be a filmmaker from childhood. But I didn’t have many role models that were women in terms of filmmaking, and I have more role models in literature, both in poetry, short stories, and novels. There I was exposed to more women, you know writers, than I was women filmmakers when I was growing up. I don’t think it was a conscious decision, but I think I shied away or afraid of becoming a filmmaker, because I thought somehow I wouldn’t succeed.
Yan: After you graduate from UCSC, what’s your first job?
Meredith: My first job was working on the augmented reality project or an art fair, and I was collaborating with one of my classmates from UC Santa Cruz, Phoenix Tape. She is a programmer. That was my first job. I acutally taught for a semester at UCSC, and then I taught for a year at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.
Yan: I see there is an animation that you make is also about the feminist topic. So, could you define Chthulu? How do you define that character?
Meredith: Sure, well I took that term from Donna Haraway who is a retired professor from UC SD, a famous writer and famous scholar. So her term “Chthulu” is something she’s coined to refer to the capitalist scene or the anthough scene: meeting this time period where human activity has impacted in a large way our environment. Things causing problems: big storms, climate change. So her term, she’s taking it, I believe from a number of places, like Sonic, the underworld deity. She is also taking it from a spider with this name, I think it’s Latin name is… I have to look it up but it’s in her essay. A spider that lives in Santa Cruz mountains that she’s referring also referring to, as well as the Chthulu from Love Craft, the writer the horror, like Street Craft. I think also she’s using the term, though, in a way that’s contradictory to Love Craft. I think Love Craft monster, the Chthulu was sort of a racist monster. Or it symbolized the, you know, story the call that’s called the Chthulu was somewhat of as xenophobic story. So, I think she doesn’t want to, or my interpretation is that she’s thinking not about Love Craft necessarily but more about the Sonic deity the underworld, the kind of earth deity.
Yan: I noticed that in many of your works, you are reinterpreting modern technology to be used as traditional form of media, like you put a projector box around an iPad for “Story Problem”. So what inspires you to reinterpret these objects in those ways?
Meredith: So, I spent many hours in cinemas, and I love being in them in the dark room with other people watching cinema is wonderful experience. But I also am interested in screens outside of those dark rooms, because in the U.S. and Western Europe and in much of the world, we are carrying… we’re very dependent on our smart phones and our tablets. So we are always with screens. You know… If you live in a city of any size there’s gonna be digital billboards screens are everywhere. So I’m interested in placing screens in places that are public, but that allow a private viewing, a little bit like an old, in the early days of cinema with the viewscope, or the little projectors that you would put your eyes up and it was just a show for you. Yeah, there’s not a whole lot of deep thought in it other than the first one that I did like that was an installation and the stairwell, and I put these boxes with screen on different floors, and so as someone was walking up to seven stories they would see different episodes within the larger story of the animation.
Yan: Actually, I also see another one. It’s about horse that’s also like showing in a different way, where you put the IPad above the water.
Meredith: Yeah, it’s on a raft; it’s floating on a raft. Yeah, again, I am just I’m really interested in and screens and just you know in installations. I mean, I think cinema installation are fascinating to me. And so that in that situation I was in side it to contribute to it’s a pool and it was somewhat of a ritualistic act, and each artist would add something to the pool. It was made by an artist Marie Larien; she made the pool itself and it had a it’s sort of a stream. It created currents. So we knew ahead of time that the stuff that we added would be circulated, constantly moving. So you know didn’t I want to do at first, and then I just thought, you know, I should put a screen on a raft. So I think it looks…. it turned out nicely, because everyone else added physical objects non-screen objects. So I think the contrast between the physical objects, cultural objects, and the screen was really nice.
Yan: I watch another video, it’s about fish story. I see lots of people you are visiting are Chinese or kids. So how do you select the people you want to collect the information from them for the fish story? Based on race or age or what they do? or what kinds of people are you choosing?
Meredith: That’s a good question. We were… my collaborator Rachel Stevens and I were contacted by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. For short it’s LMCC. We were contacted by LMCC and invited to do this project. And they had some specific ideas for it. They wanted us to work with a number of neighborhood organizations in the Lower East Side, in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. So, already, there was…. we’re invited into a situation by the organizations themselves, so there was already an audience and a population that the organization wanted us to focus on. So, I was very pleased that it is something we wanted to do. It was sort of commissioned, if that makes any sense. So we ended up working, for instance, one of the organizations was supporting after school program for part of Chinatown. So that’s why we’ve worked with young Asian mostly Chinese kids. And there was another organization that worked with housing for elderly people, and not primarily with Asian or Chinese, primarily Chinese from a specific part in China actually. And then another organization was centered on Jewish adults, Jewish older adults. So the organizations themselves that commissioned the project already served particular populations, and so that’s why we went to those groups of people. And it was great. I mean the Lower East Side in New York City is still very diverse. I mean it’s incredible. It’s highly, densely populated, and incredibly diverse. And just very very vibrant part of the world. I love it there. It’s just amazing. And certain cultures are extremely rich there. And I think they are able to retain their sense of themselves even when … you know.. they are in a big melting pot like New York City.
Yan: From all of your projects, which one is your most proud of?
Meredith: I think… I think probably… it’s the collaborative work that I feel the best about, because I just really enjoy collaborating. So I really enjoy working on Fish Stories, because it wasn’t just me and Rachel. It was many many people that contributed. I also really enjoyed working on the documentary about AIR gallery. And I enjoy working on a project about environmental justice in Louisiana. I think at heart… I really like collaborating. I think collaborating is in a sense…. I think feminist are really good collaborators usually. Because if we don’t… by in large, I think feminists are people who, whether they are men or women, are people that are interested in sharing the authority, instead of hogging authority in a more democratic structure. So I like collaborating with people who are also interested in sharing.
Yan: You mentioned about collaborating, so it reminds me about your another video about gallery shows all the female works. How many female are founders of that gallery?
Meredith: So the gallery started in 1972. It was the first all female artists run gallery in the U.S. and it was started by Nephew Sparrow and Anna Mendiada, and Howa Gina Mendle that all went on to have pretty strong careers as new artists. So I was really happy to make the documentary because I love to learning in depth about black history, and it’s still I think it has something like forty members, probably between twenty to forty members. They also having a fellowship program where they have about four younger emerging artists fellows every year, on the pay sponsor. So it’s still a very active Gallery, and I think that people are part of AIR gallery thinks that a women’s gallery is still needed, because if you look at art sales at the big auction houses and it’s still the men whose work is sold at auction for much higher prices than the women. You know there are still is inequities in the art world, even though there’s been many many positive changes and gains over the last forty years.
Yan: It’s similar as a film industry?
Meredith: Yeah… Absolutely, I was reading last night about Cara Leish Leiman. And how she …. it’s amazing you know how women who are in their seventies or eighties, they really didn’t have any role models. I mean it’s just amazing how different and that was, and that only 60 years ago where there were just very very few women, who broke through to success as artists and filmmakers. So I think… I feel lucky that all these women came before me to break those barriers.
Yan: What projects are you currently working on?
Meredith: Let’s see. I’m working on some animations. Yeah, right now I am mostly working on animations. I’m working on a new one about gun violence. Yeah, that’s what I’m working on right now. I like to do a collaborating animation, but I don’t know yet what I want to do, so I just been working on my own in that way. Sometimes I found that collaborating with technology can get in the way. So just thinking about ways to collaborate, without the technology being a problem.
Yan: It seems like you work in both New York and Arizona; so how do you schedule your time since these two places are so far away?
Meredith: Yeah, I live in Arizona because of the job, the teaching position. And, so I have a lot of time off. You know… we have four months in the summer and a month in December, so I’m lucky that I have that time off. Because I’m able to spend that time in New York City. And then I also just fly to New York sometimes on the weekend, because I can leave on Thursday and so yeah it’s just that I spend a lot of time on the air…. on the plane.